Choosing the knife that is right for you can be confusing - with so many beautiful shiny products to choose from, how do you figure out which one is your perfect kitchen partner? Don't be seduced by their good looks (although, that is obviously one consideration!) with such variations in blades and handles available, they need to work right, as well as look great. Here's some helpful questions to get you heading in the right direction...
Try asking yourself the following questions, your answers will help to guide you towards the right kitchen knife:
What sort of kitchen knives do you have at the moment?
What characteristics do they have which you particularly like, and would be desirable in your new kitchen knives?
What do you dislike about them and want to avoid when you buy new ones?
What kind of cooking do you do, is it light and delicate or do you cut lots of heavy vegetables?
Do you prefer a lighter or a heavier knife?
Do you naturally cut using a forward pushing stroke or by pulling the knife backwards?
Do you need a set of kitchen knives or just a couple of really good ones?
Is the knife intended for a specialist purpose?
Is there a particular style or brand of knife which appeals to you?
Thinking and answering these questions will help you to analyse what you need from your new kitchen knives and it will help to narrow down your selection too.
In the same way that you wouldn’t buy a new pair of shoes without trying them on; it’s very important to handle a new knife before you buy it. Come into any branch of Steamer Trading and we will be happy to let you handle as many of our extensive range of knives as it takes, to find you the right one.
Use our store locator to find your nearest branch. If there’s a particular knife that you would like to handle then give your nearest branch a call. If we don’t have it in store at the time it will only usually take a few days for us to get one for you to try.
How Should a Knife Feel?
A knife should feel very balanced in your hand. It shouldn’t feel as if all the weight is at the heel or the tip, which would make the knife want to tip forwards or backwards. Cradle the knife in your hand and ‘weigh’ it gently. The knife should feel as if it wants to fall straight downwards and also as if it is ready to be guided by you into exactly the right position for cutting.
One point of note, balancing a knife on your finger gives very little indication of the quality or feel of the knife. A 20cm cook’s knife will balance nicely at the bolster whilst a paring knife or carving knife will balance at a very different point. Always hold the knife as you would in when cooking to establish how it feels.
European and Japanese Kitchen Knives - an overview
European and Oriental foods are vastly different. In Europe we have an abundance of food with heavy textures and strong flavours such as, cabbages, root vegetables and red meat. Oriental diets feature very little red meat but include lots of fish and poultry and vegetables which are both light in flavour and texture.
European Kitchen Knives
European foods demand the use of a strong, powerful knife. Hence the European kitchen knife has evolved with a thick back edge. There is big block of steel between the blade and the handle called the bolster. The bolster strengthens the knife and provide excellent grip when cutting heavy foods. A piece of steel runs from the bolster through the entire length of the handle, this is called the tang. In a fully forged knife the blade bolster and tang are made from one solid piece of steel. This makes the knife very strong and able to cut the toughest of foods. In a good quality European kitchen knife, the blade tapers from heel to tip. This is called a taper grind. When you cut with a forward pushing motion the taper grind acts as wedge, splitting the food for easier cutting performance.
Japanese Kitchen Knives
Japanese knives are much lighter and thinner than their European cousins as their shape has evolved to prepare delicate oriental ingredients. The way to increase the intensity of flavour from a very delicate food is to slice it thinly. This allows more contact between the food and oxygen in the air and your taste buds and greatly emphasises the flavours in the food. A thin blade must still be strong enough to withstand regular daily use in the kitchen. The Japanese achieve this by making their knife blades out of harder steel than the thicker European versions. Hard steel creates a strong edge that can be sharpened to a very fine cutting edge. The use of hard steel also means that the knife will retain its edge for long periods. The drawback of this is that harder materials are inevitably more brittle and therefore susceptible to chipping, cracking and occasionally breaking entirely. Japanese knife manufacturers solve this problem by making their best knives out of folded steel. Heating a piece of steel up in a forge, folding it over on the anvil and hammering the layers together removes impurities from the metal and makes it stronger. The more layers that you have the stronger your knife will become. Heat treating the cutting edge will allow it to be ground to extreme levels of sharpness. Japanese kitchen knives have smaller bolsters than European ones. This is because they are intended for use with a slicing action by pulling the knife backwards where a full bolster would get in the way.
Ceramic Kitchen Knives
These ceramic knives are made from high tech zirconium porcelain. They are very light, hard (with Rockwell scores in the 80s) and extremely sharp. Ceramic knives were originally created for preparing extremely high quality sashimi - connoisseurs claim that they can taste the taint of a metal knife on the delicate fish used to make ultra-high quality sashimi. Ceramic knives leave no taint on the food and give the ultimate cutting performance. Over the years ceramic knives have become significantly stronger and more robust however we don’t recommend using one to prepare heavy root vegetables.
A good pair of kitchen scissors are a great addition to any knife set and will be capable of far more than just opening packets. We’ve heard of customers using them for everything from trimming the rind from bacon to coring kidneys and cutting slices of calves’ liver. Good kitchen scissors have large ergonomic loop handles for comfort and safety for when your hands get slippery. Some of the best models come apart for hygienic cleaning. Scissor blades are contoured in three different directions making them very difficult to resharpen.
Poultry shears are more powerfully built than scissors. They are used for jointing chickens and game birds. Most poultry shears have big long handles to allow the user to apply a strong grip to cut through small bones. Shears are commonly spring loaded for easy cutting and feature a latch to hold them closed, for safety when not in use.